Mr. President, Excellencies, Deputies, Counsellors, Ladies and Gentlemen, it is with great pleasure that I welcome you here to the site of the Battle of the Boyne.
The battle fought here over 300 years ago was one which shaped the course of Irish history. Yet it was not just an Irish conflict. The Battle of the Boyne was, in every sense, a European conflict. It had an impact far beyond the Irish shores. At stake were the throne of England and French hegemony in Europe.
The nationalities that made up the warring armies reflect the importance of the battle for Europe, with Dutchmen and Danes, Irishmen, Englishmen and Scots, and Frenchmen and Germans all fighting and dying here.
It is difficult to imagine that this peaceful valley was once the site of such a conflict with such far-reaching consequences. While the site may be peaceful today, for many years the Battle of the Boyne and this site had strong connotations - victorious for some, devastating for others. With the success of the peace process, this has changed.
The site of the Battle of the Boyne, once synonymous with conflict and division is now a place of peace and reconciliation. We are here today to celebrate this transformation from division to reconciliation, and to recognise the role and support of European Union funds.
Mr. President, gathered here are groups hailing from communities North and South, all carrying out such essential work, healing divisions and promoting reconciliation. The laudable work of these groups is generously supported by the European Union through the EU PEACE Programmes and the EU’s contributions to the International Fund for Ireland.
Since 1995, the EU has overseen PEACE Programmes with a value of more than €1.65 billion. This is an enormous contribution to peace and justice on the island of Ireland.
Additionally, the International Fund for Ireland has received € 753 million in support from the governments of the United States, Canada, Australia, New Zealand and – of course – the European Union. Indeed, in recent years it is the European Union which has taken the leading role in supporting the Fund’s activities. For this support we are deeply grateful.
The EU’s generous support to initiatives that bring peace and reconciliation, reminds us that the European Union is a peace project at its heart. It is a peace project put in place after the most destructive and disastrous war in human history, to heal the divisions between neighbouring states and to foster reconciliation and cooperation amongst the people of Europe, to allow Europeans to build positive relationships with their neighbours and to work towards a more peaceful future.
Mr. President the institution you represent, the European Parliament, exemplifies the success of the European project, with directly elected representatives of the citizens of the EU debating and shaping the legislation that has such a positive impact on the daily lives of Europeans.
Relationships – whether it be across Ireland: North and South – or across Europe are essentially about people. I am delighted that during your visit here this afternoon you have had the opportunity to meet representatives of the many groups who have benefitted from the European Union’s support: people who are active participants in our journey of peace and reconciliation in Ireland and in Europe.